The Mustang Mountains are a small range in southern Arizona, located about nine miles east of the small town of Sonoita, and nearby the tiny community of Elgin, in Santa Cruz County. The highest point of the range, elevation 6,469 feet, has no official name and is usually called Mustang Mountains Highpoint. The range just spans six miles from north to south, but the peaks feature lots of cliffs and steep, grass-covered slopes down low, and low forests at the highest crests. Mustang Peak, elevation 6,317, lies north of the range highpoint. Mount Bruce, at the north end of the range, features a dome summit surrounded by tall cliffs.
This part of Arizona is high elevation (about 4,000 feet) grass valleys surrounded by large “sky island” mountain ranges such as the Santa Rita, Huachuca and Whetstone Ranges. The Mustang Mountains sometimes get overshadowed by these larger ranges and visitation to the Mustangs is low. Most of the range is surrounded by ranch properties, but there are public access points, mostly via lands incorporated into the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area (BLM).
Visitors to this area may be surprised to discover that this Arizona’s Wine Country. The seasons are not as harsh due to its elevations, where winters are cold but generally not freezing, and summers are warm but not overly hot. Apparently, grapes do well in this kind of climate. Ranching is (not surprisingly) also a main industry.
Getting ThereFrom Insterstate-10 east of Tucson, take exit 281 (state route AZ-83) and proceed south about 25 miles to Sonoita, and the intersection of AZ-82. Turn left (east) on AZ-82 and drive 8.5 miles to Upper Elgin Road. Turn right (south) for 2.5 miles to a gate on the left (east) side of the road. Signs do not prohibit access, but ask that you close all gates. There’s a cattle trough a few feet inside this gate, in case you get confused by other gates in the area. To this point, all roads are paved.
Enter past the gate (closing it) and drive as far as you feel comfortable. The road is a two-track paralleling a fence line. The tread is solid and free of rocks, but features a high center with tall grass. Small passenger vehicles may get trapped by the high center. There are many places to park, easing off the road onto random spots of cleared land.Depending on your vehicle and the conditions, continue east on this two-track past two more gates. After the second gate, the road bends right (southeast), then at a Y-junction about a half-mile later, follow the left fork (east) into the canyon separating Mustang Peak and the range highpoint. The road quality worsens slightly as it goes up and down over small ridges, ending at a turn-around where one last gate states “This is not a Road”.
This range road is not bad and most high-clearance vehicles should be adequate when it’s dry. It gets a little rough toward the end. From the gate at Upper Elgin Road to the road’s end is about two miles.Upper Elgin Road is also accessible from AZ-90 south out of Benson, or along AZ-82 from Nogales, Patagonia and Sonoita.
RouteFrom wherever you park, walk the road past the “This is not a Road” gate mentioned earlier. Past this gate, the path is an old track slowly being returned to nature. But it does offer a good “trail” for about another half mile. The peak rises up and to the right. Along the way, eyeball ridges that you might want to follow.
If you are lazy like we were, you’ll probably walk the track to its ending, then up grassy slopes to a north-trending ridge. Grunt up to this ridge, then up more slopes to a rock outcrop. Continue upward, meeting the forest for the last 300 vertical feet to the top.The forest is thick with junipers and various pines, as well as cactus, thornbrush, agave and other succulents, plus thick grass. The forest also hides a jumble of rocks. These rocks aren’t as cliffy as seen on other peaks nearby, but they pile up so that you’ll need to weave through them, all the while trying to battle the trees and brush. Many of the rocks are loose. If you’re careful and a little lucky, the climbing is never worse than low class-3, and it goes quickly. Soon, the terrain levels and you’ll be on the small summit ridge. The highest point is at the south end.
From Upper Elgin Road to the top is about 3.5 miles one way, and about 1,600 feet of gain.Border crossers may be in the area. We saw evidence of their presence atop the peak, including discarded clothing and food wrappers. Wildlife includes mule deer, javelina, and possibly wildcat. The grass is plentiful, so be on the lookout for rattlesnakes.
Red TapeThere is no red tape. Access is not restricted, but please be mindful of the land and leave no trace of your presence.
Given the abundant grass in the fields below the peaks, a campfire is strong not advised.